John Milton Paradise Lost [1256173

What mere man or magician or tyrant or king was ever able by himself to do so much? Did anyone ever fight against the whole system of idol-worship and the whole host of daemons and all magic and all the wisdom of the Greeks, at a time when all of these were strong and flourishing and taking everybody in, as did our Lord, the very Word of God? Yet He is even now invisibly exposing every man's error, and single-handedly is carrying off all men from them all, so that those who used to worship idols now tread them under foot, reputed magicians burn their books and the wise prefer to all studies the interpretation of the gospels. They are deserting those whom formerly they worshiped, they worship and confess as Christ and God Him Whom they used to ridicule as crucified. Their so-called gods are routed by the sign of the cross, and the crucified Saviour is proclaimed in all the world as God and Son of God.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [53]

FULFILLING THE GREAT COMMISSION

"Go therefore and disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and 10, I am with you always, even to the end of the age " (Matthew 28:19-20).

The Great Commission to the Church does not end with simply witnessing to the nations. Christ's command is that we disciple the nations - all the nations. The kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of Christ. They are to be discipled, made obedient to the faith. This means that every aspect of life throughout the world is to be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ: families, individuals, business, science, agriculture, the arts, law, education, economics, psychology, philosophy, and every other sphere of human activity. Nothing may be left out. Christ "must reign, until He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). We have been given the responsibility of converting the entire world.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul outlined a strategy for worldwide dominion:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty in God for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ; and we are ready to punish all disobedience, once your obedience is complete (2 Cor. 10:3-6).

As Paul observes, the army of Christ is invincible: we are not fighting in mere human power, but with weapons that are "mighty in God" (cf. Eph. 6:10-18), divinely powerful, more than adequate to accomplish the job. With these weapons at our disposal, we are able to destroy everything the enemy raises up in opposition to the lordship of Jesus Christ. "We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ": Christ is to be acknowledged as Lord everywhere, in every sphere of human activity. We are to "think God's thoughts after Him" at every point, following His authoritative Word, the law-book of the Kingdom. This is at the root of any genuine program of Christian reconstruction.

Paul tells us that the goal of our warfare is total victory, complete dominion for the Kingdom of Christ. We will not settle for anything less than the entire world. "We are ready to punish all disobedience, once your obedience is complete," Paul says. The Moffatt translation renders it this way: I am prepared to court-martial anyone who remains insubordinate, once your submission is complete. Paul's goal is universal obedience to our Lord.

But it is important to note the order here. Paul does not begin his work of reconstruction by fomenting a social revolution. Nor does he begin by seeking political office. He begins with the Church, and will move out to bring the rest of the world under Christ's dominion "once the Church's obedience is complete." The center of Christian reconstruction is the Church. The River of Life does not flow out from the doors of the chambers of Congresses and Parliaments. It flows from the restored Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Church of Jesus Christ. Our goal is world dominion under Christ's lordship, a "world takeover" if you will; but our strategy begins with the reformation and reconstruction of the Church. From that will flow social and political reconstruction, indeed a flowering of Christian civilization (Hag. 1:1-15;2:6-9, 18-23).

This has always been the case. When Moses sued Pharaoh for the freedom of the Israelites, he did not say: "Let us go start a Christian Republic." He said:

Thus says the LoRD, the God of Israel, "Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness" (Ex. 5:1; cf. 7:16).

Certainly, God was planning to create His people a new nation. The law He was to give them would provide the founda tion for a social order and judicial system. Important as all that is, however, what is infinitely more important is God. And what is basic to our ongoing relationship to Him and service for Him is our worship of Him. The fundamental issue between Egypt and Israel was the question of worship. Everything else flowed from that.

Liturgy and History

We know the story of Israel. God forced Pharaoh to release them, and they went on to inherit the Promised Land. But the really crucial aspect of the whole Exodus event, as far as the people's activity was concerned, was worship. The orthodox Christian faith cannot be reduced to personal experiences, academic discussions, or culture-building activity — as important as all these are in varying degrees. The essence of biblical religion is the worship of God. And by worship I do not only mean listening to sermons, even though preaching is certainly necessary and important. I mean organized, congregational prayers, praise, and sacramental celebration. This means, further, that the reformation of Church government is crucial to biblical dominion. True Christian reconstruction of culture is far from being simply a matter of passing Law X and electing Congressman Y. Christianity is not a political cult. It is the divinely ordained worship of the Most High God.

That is why the Book of Revelation begins with a vision of Christ and goes onto deal with the government (the "angels," or officers) of the Church. The entire prophecy, in fact, is structured as a worship service on the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10). Throughout the book we see a repeated pattern: first, the "angels" lead the saints in organized worship; second, God responds to His people's worship by bringing judgment unto salvation. For example, John shows us the martyrs gathered at the incense altar, beseeching God to avenge them on their persecutors (Rev. 6:9-11). Shortly thereafter, an "angel" formally offers up their prayers to God, then takes coals from the altar and throws them to the earth: the result is devastation and destruction upon Israel; the land catches fire; a burning mountain is thrown into the sea (Rev. 8:1-8). This is but one illustration among many of a central truth of Revelation: the inseparable connection between liturgy and history. The Book of

Revelation shows that God's judgments in history are direct responses to the Church's official worship. When the Church, in her official capacity, pronounces lawful judgments, those declarations are honored at the Supreme Court of heaven (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23), and God Himself executes the Church's verdict.

Jesus, in fact, had specifically commanded His people to pray for the Mountain of Israel to be cast into the sea (Matt. 21:21-22), and that is exactly (figuratively) what happened. This is an important lesson for the Church today. Our primary response to persecution and oppression must not be political. That is to put our trust in the State. The Church-k primary response to persecution must be liturgical. We must pray about it, personally, in families, and in the organized, corporate worship of the Church, whose officers are divinely empowered to bring judgments. Of course, this means that the Church must return to the orthodox practice of singing and praying Imprecatory Psalms against God s enemies. (The "Imprecatory Psalms" are the Psalms which consist mainly of imprecations, or curses, against the wicked; a few of these are Psalms 35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 83, 94, 109, and 140). Church officers must pronounce sentence against oppressors, and Christians must follow this up by faithful prayers that the oppressors will either repent or be destroyed.

To take another example: What should the Church do about the modern form of human sacrifice, the daily abomination known as abortion? If our central response is social or political action, we are, in principle, atheists; we are confessing our faith in human action as the ultimate determiner of history. True, we should work for the criminalization of abortion: the murderers should receive capital punishment (Ex. 21:22-25). We must also work to save the lives of the innocent and defenseless. But our fundamental actions should be governmental and liturgical. Church officers should pronounce judgments upon abortionists — naming outstanding Pro-Death advocates, judges, doctors, and publishers.

If the Church faithfully calls upon God to judge murderers and persecutors, what will happen? The answer is given in the whole Book of Revelation: God's angels will cast fire upon the earth, and the wicked will be consumed. But we must remember that the coals of God's vengeance must come from the sitar. God's fiery wrath issues from His throne, where we meet Him in public worship. A "resistance movement" that is not centered in worship will come under the judgment of God. In principle, it is like Nadab and Abihu's offering of "strange fire" (Lev. 10:1-2).

W. S. Plumer wrote of the power of the Church's imprecatory prayers: "Of thirty Roman Emperors, governors of provinces and others high in office, who distinguished themselves by their zeal and bitterness in persecuting the early Christians, one became speedily deranged after some atrocious cruelty, one was slain by his own son, one became blind, the eyes of one started out of his head, one was drowned, one was strangled, one died in a miserable captivity, one fell dead in a manner that will not bear recital, one died of so loathsome a disease that several of his physicians were put to death because they could not abide the stench that filled his room, two committed suicide, a third attempted it, but had to call for help to finish the work, five were assassinated by their own people or servants, five others died the most miserable and excruciating deaths, several of them having an untold complication of diseases, and eight were killed in battle or after being taken prisoners. Among these was Julian the apostate. In the days of his prosperity he is said to have pointed his dagger to heaven defying the Son of God, whom he commonly called the Galilean. But when he was wounded in battle, he saw that all was over with him, and he gathered up his clotted blood, and threw it into the air, exclaiming, 'Thou hast conquered, 0 thou Galilean.' "

Of course, the Church's worship is not primarily negative but positive: we are to offer up petitions for the conversion of the world. We must ask God to cause all nations to flow into His Temple, praying that His Mountain will grow and fill the earth more and more, and that our age will see increasing triumphs for the gospel in every area of life. There is no reason not to expect victory; if we are faithful to God's Word, there is every reason to assume that the powers of darkness will be shattered by our advance. The gates of hell must and shall fall before the aggressive, militant Church (Matt. 16:18).

It is a mark of our unbelief that we put our trust in men and princes rather than in the Spirit of God. Which is more powerful - human depravity or God's sovereignty? Can God convert the world? Of course! More than that, He has promised that He will convert the world ! He has told us that "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). How much do the waters cover the sea? Is there any part of the sea that is not covered by water? That is just the point: someday, people everywhere will know the Lord. All nations will serve Him.

The salvation of the world was the reason why Jesus came, as He Himself told Nicodemus:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him (John 3:16-17).

That the world should be saved! Here is one of the most oft-quoted passages of all the Bible, and so often we miss the point. Jesus Christ came to save the world- not just a sinner here, a sinner there. He wants us to disciple the nations - not just a few individuals. The Lord Jesus will not be satisfied in the success of His mission until the whole earth is singing His praises. On the basis of God's infallible promises, the Church must pray and work for the expansion of the Kingdom, with the expectation that God will fill His Church with "a great multitude, which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9).

We must stop acting as if we are forever destined to be a subculture. We are destined for dominion; we should straighten up and start acting like it. Our life and worship should reflect our expectation of dominion and our increasing capacity for responsibility. We should not see ourselves as lonely outposts surrounded by an increasingly hostile world; that is to bear false witness against God. The truth is just the opposite of that. It is the devil who is on the run, it is paganism which is doomed to extinction. Christianity is ultimately the dominant culture, predestined to be the final and universal religion. The Church will fill the earth.

The great St. Augustine understood this. Referring to those who saw themselves as the last remnant of a Church which was headed for inevitable decline, he laughed: "The clouds roll with thunder, that the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth: and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak - We are the only Christians !"

We are the shapers of world history. God has remade us in His image for world dominion; He has poured out upon us His Spirit, with "power from on high" (Luke 24:49); He has committed to us the gospel of the Kingdom, and commissioned us to take over the world. If we trust and obey Him, there is no possibility of failure.

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